It was because of a bad neighbour that I came to believe there might be some grain of truth in the saying: " you can take a man out of the desert, you cannot take the desert out of the man". The neighbor, Mr. A, was born in a small town on the fringes of the moroccan Sahara , which like some other towns and villages in that area served as a gateway to the vast desert.
[This region of Morocco is nowadays a very popular and highly exciting tourist attraction. Towns like Marrakesh, Quarzarzate , Merzouga , Zagora have become famous as starting points for treks in the Sahara desert. Here is the place where all the arrangements are made to ensure that tourists get a one-time experience which includes riding camels, feeling the dunes of sand, watching the nomads and palm grooves, sleeping in tents, and listening to the the unique stillness of the desert].
It so happened that when this neighbor was about 10 years old, a french movie producer spotted his elder sister and found her fit for the role of a native girl who could ride a camel and speak the local dialect. When the film shooting was over, he took her with him to Paris. The moroccon family followed her and settled there permanently . After graduating from Sorbonne (philosophy ?!) Mr. A couldn't 'find himself' in France, so he came to Israel, where he 'found us' and made our life a misery.
It started with the little garden which was common to both appartments: his and ours. Whatever my mother planted, he destroyed. She kept planting flowers and trees , he kept destroying them and levelling the earth. It went on to the water issue. He warned us not to"waste" water on the garden, but he shamelessly used the garden water pipe to wash his car, and there were many other things that made us unhappy, to say the least. My mother didn't want to file a complaint against him. We were afraid , he had "friends" who were apparently close to the philosophy of Sicily not to that of Sorbonne.
It was only when he started demolishing walls in his appartment, and changing his cars as often as one would change one's socks - that my mother finally understood the situation was hopeless. " It seems the man has the desert in his blood and veins" she said bitterly. "He doesn't want a garden but an arid plot, he 's restless in his appartment, he'll feel at ease only close to earth, perhaps in a tent, cars don't seem to suit him well, probably only camels will do." "But Mom, he's got a diploma from the Sorbonne university in Paris, I saw it with my own eyes." "Well , education has its limits ; it probably cannot always, if at all, change the essence of a person, only the outer layers, and in his case not even this," she said.
After her 'discovery', we felt that the only thing to do was to pray to God to help us get rid of him by way of making him consider moving to another place. God heard and accepted our prayers. . At the end of that year, Mr. A finally got tired and bored of constantly demolishing and remodelling the walls which seemed to strangle him, and moved to another building, in the center of the town. I knew where he lived so I kept away from that area to avoid bumping into him.
One day, a friend of mine wanted us to meet in a small coffee shop located in that "red zone". Although I wasn't sure the 'philosopher' was still around, I was reluctant to meet her there, but she insisted. We sat at a table outside the cafe. After we had our chat and coffee, we asked the waitress for the bill. "It has been taken care of'' she said . "What do you mean, by whom?" She looked me into the eyes and said :"By Mr. A, my boss, who wants you to feel welcome here." So, he was the owner of the coffee shop. I kind of panicked, I didn't want to see him, and didn't want his free coffee.
My friend decided to do something about it. She felt guilty for insisting on coming here, so she went into the coffee shop, thanked him, using all her arsenal of charming french words , paid the bill , brought the receipt for me to see it and calm down. When I rose from my seat intending to leave the cafe, a heavy hand pushed me back into it and a known voice in a french accent said : "You're not going anywhere without eating my couscous first"; a bowl of hot couscous ( moroccon specialty based on granules made from semolina flour) was placed in front of me.
I forgot to mention that the only good thing I remember about my former neighbor was his ability to prepare the best couscous imaginable. Well, I could never resist the temptation of eating good couscous.